Feds Toughen IT Program Manager Requirements

Office of Personnel Management tries to ensure that future IT leader hires are highly qualified.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

July 20, 2011

3 Min Read

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Requirements to be a federal IT program manager just got a lot tougher.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released a memo outlining a comprehensive competency model for the career path of a government IT program manager, a position that only recently became an official title for federal IT workers. The model is meant to inform federal hiring managers when choosing who will occupy future program management positions.

The move is a requirement of the 25-point IT Reform Plan, unveiled by outgoing U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra in December to revise the inefficient way the government has been deploying IT for more than a decade.

The government's history of appointing inexperienced IT program managers is a major pain point that Kundra--who will leave in early August to take a position at Harvard University--identified as a reason for the feds' careless IT spending over the years. In April, he publicly compared the problem to allowing surgeons who've never went through medical school to operate on patients.

Indeed, a blog post on the CIO.gov site about the competency models highlighted their ability to save the government money in the long run.

"By creating a path for those well-versed in expediting complex, multi-million dollar IT projects, the government can reduce wasteful spending and increase the effectiveness of its IT programs," according to the post.

An IT program manager is different from a project manager in that a program manager is responsible for overseeing several related projects, whereas a project manager is responsible for a specific one and reports to a program manager.

In addition to providing competency models and requirements for program managers, the OPM also included the same for project managers to "assist with the career path effort," it said in the memo.

List of competencies for IT program managers include integrity/honesty, decision making, interpersonal skills, teamwork, self-management, accountability, customer service, and a host of others.

The OPM also has listed in the memo the importance of these requirements now versus in the future, according to the new competency models. Only three--the top competency, integrity/honesty; the seventh on the list, accountability; and problem solving, at number 10--remain the same in terms of importance.

The importance of some others, however, changes fairly dramatically. Leadership, for instance, moves from eighth on the list to second in importance, while writing--once the 15th most important competency in a list of 25--drops to last place. Risk management, previously last in order of importance, moves up to number 18, while IT program management, previously 16th in terms of importance, moves up to ninth.

The competency model is the result of work begun in January by the OPM in collaboration with the Federal CIO Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and experts in the IT program management field. In April the OPM also surveyed current federal IT program managers and their supervisors to inform the new requirements and responsibilities.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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